Preseason Recap: Thunder at Suns

THUNDER – 76

PHOENIX SUNS – 88

RECAP:

PHOENIX – The Thunder’s 88-76 loss to the Phoenix Suns in its second-to-last preseason game won’t count in the standings, but it was an important tune up for the team and particularly its younger players, who are still learning various aspects of the game.

Led by point guard Reggie Jackson, who finished with 18 points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals, the Thunder nearly climbed all the way back from a double-digit halftime deficit, but too many Thunder turnovers and Suns offensive rebounds prevented Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club from making it a tight finish. Those two areas of the game that hurt the Thunder in Tuesday night’s game are focal points for the team heading into the regular season, so the tape from tonight’s game will be perfect material for the team to work with in the coming days.

“We have to have more force offensively and defensively,” Jackson explained. “We kind of got going late. They just got out to an early lead and it was hard to battle back.”

“Every minute is a minute to get better,” Brooks said. “We have to play our minutes hard. We have to be able to defend with toughness, we have to be able to box out and we have to be able to rebound.”

Thunder players have been hitting the practice floor hard all of training camp to improve their games individually and collectively, and even though the end result on the scoreboard wasn’t a win, the time on the floor was very valuable. 24-year-old Serge Ibaka scored 11 points and grabbed four rebounds, while second-year men Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones combined to score 25 points and snag 12 rebounds. To round out the double-digit scorers, Steven Adams added 10 points and eight rebounds.

All of the young men on the Thunder’s roster are working to be productive within the structure of the Thunder’s offensive and defensive systems. As they continue to develop and get playing time in different roles like they were tonight, those players begin to understand the best ways to impact the game. One example tonight was the play of Jones, who got more comfortable as the night went along, capped by a nine-point fourth quarter performance by operating as the screener in the pick-and-roll.

“If you set a good screen for somebody else and they’re open, for a split second I’m open too because my man has the help,” Jones said. “I’ll just be aggressive wherever they put me at. My main focus has been defense. On the offensive end, just be aggressive and don’t second guess myself.”

For the all of the good things that came out of tonight’s game – experience, solid execution and hustle plays – there are still plenty of teaching points for the coaching staff as the team prepares for the regular season. With its first official game just a week away in Salt Lake City against the Utah Jazz, the Thunder will be using tonight’s game film as both teaching material and motivation.

Just like in the regular season, the team will get a chance to turn around and try to play better in short order, with its final preseason clash tipping off tomorrow night in Wichita against the Chicago Bulls.

“We’ve been good all preseason, playing with that toughness and fighting for every rebound,” Brooks said. “Tonight, they came up with rebounds and they came up with loose balls. It’s a game we can learn from and a game that we will learn from. We have to regroup and come back tomorrow night.”

TURNING POINT:

The Thunder cut the Suns’ lead to six points at 67-61 with 9:32 remaining in the game after two Jeremy Lamb free throws, but after that, Phoenix went on a 17-2 run that pushed the lead out and kept the Thunder at bay for the rest of the game. The Suns’ Archie Goodwin scored 10 out of the team’s next 14 points and also assisted on a PJ Tucker three-pointer that capped the big burst. On the other end of the floor, the Thunder’s only points game on a Diante Garrett step-back jumper, as the team committed seven turnovers.

PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN’T SHOW, FIRST HALF:

Excellent job by Reggie Jackson to jump back in the passing lane to deflect a backdoor pass, then Jackson dives on a loose ball and smartly calls a timeout to retain possession. Nice helpside defense by Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha to force a travel. Jeremy Lamb tips a defensive rebound to Sefolosha to prevent an extra possession for the Suns. Solid screen by Ibaka gives Jackson the ability to turn the corner and get free for a floater. Steven Adams dives on the floor for a loose ball to regain possession for the Thunder. Well executed press break by Perry Jones to move to the open spot then outlet the ball.

PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN’T SHOW, SECOND HALF:

Nice screen action by Hasheem Thabeet to free up Ibaka for a baseline jumper to beat the shot clock. Strong box out by Thabeet helps the Thunder regain possession. Great hustle by Andre Roberson to fight through a backdoor screen to prevent a pass from going through. Excellent vision by Diante Garrett to find Roberson along the baseline for an alley-oop layup. Jones flies back in transition defense to stop a sure layup. Good hedge on a pick-and-roll to prevent a drive by Adams. Wonderful defense for a full 24 seconds to force a shot clock violation.

FINAL WORD:

“We have to play with more toughness. That’s the thing that we pride ourselves on as an organization- coming to play every night and playing with toughness. That’s not just on the defensive end, that’s on the offensive end too.” – Head Coach Scott Brooks